From nurse to patient – my experience of Spinal Cord Injury

January 23 2020

A keen horse rider and experienced nurse, Sallyanne Haigh has found herself on the other side of healthcare provision when she sustained a Spinal Cord Injury from falling from her horse.

Sallyann Haigh intermittent catheter user riding horse after spinal cord injury

No one is prepared for a momentous life event such as a Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), and thankfully Sallyanne’s professional experience enabled her to navigate a way through the arduous road of rehabilitation and the bureaucracy of the welfare system. A mother of two teenage children, and a decorated competitive horse rider, Sallyanne’s resilience, courage and resourcefulness were stretched to the limit as she dealt with the effects of her injury and adjustment to a new body, and a new life. 

When talking with Sallyanne, her steeliness and positivity are immediately apparent. We spoke about catheterization and the challenges facing those with a SCI face in securing rehabilitation and training. 

As a nurse of 25 years in the UK’s National Health Service, Sallyanne worked first in general nursing, then specialized in palliative care for the elderly, before managing a community care team. This experience helped her avoid lingering in treatments and therapies that weren't always effective and taking charge of her rehabilitation and care. 

Having lost the sensation and control of her bladder, she was immediately given an indwelling catheter that caused several Urinary Tract Infections (UTI), caused by bacteria building up due to incomplete emptying of the bladder. If left untreated, a UTI can be life-threatening. After 14 weeks, Intermittent Catheterization was introduced - using a single-use, disposable catheter to empty the bladder.

Avoiding Urinary Tract Infections

I was given one choice of catheter – a long catheter that had to be manually lubricated. This gave me UTIs and would splash over me when I opened it. Had I not known what else was out there, I might have stayed with the wrong catheter for a long time.

Catheter users often find that they have to try several different types of catheters before finding the right one - they differ in length and width, and as all bodies are different, a one-size-fits-all catheter doesn't exist. This was no different for Sallyanne, who tried a few before settling on a catheter that suited her body, lifestyle needs and promoted her independence. 

It was small in length, discreet, fit into my handbag, and didn’t splash all over me when I opened it. But more importantly, the surface was smooth.

A smooth surface allowed for easier insertion and withdrawal, without causing damage to the urethra (the passage through which urine flows from the bladder) which can lead to UTIs. Since Sallyanne found the right catheter - over two years ago - she has not experienced any UTIs. 

Like many people with an SCI, it’s not the inability to walk that has been the most troubling, it is problematic bladder management that poses an obstacle because it prevents interacting with the world due to constant anxiety about leakage and finding a toilet. Together with medication and having had botox injected into the bladder to control spasm, catheterization has restored a regular bladder routine to Sallyanne’s life:  

“It’s getting back to life – I don’t think about it, it’s just what I do.”

Read our guides for women and men with a bladder dysfunction


Topics: Neurogenic bladder, Spinal Cord Injury (SCI), Intermittent Catheterization